COUNTRY DESCRIPTION: Bulgaria is a member of the European Union. Tourist facilities are widely available, but conditions vary and some facilities, infrastructure, and services may not be up to Western standards. Read the Department of State’s Fact Sheet on Bulgaria for additional information.
SMART TRAVELER ENROLLMENT PROGRAM (STEP) / EMBASSY LOCATION: If you are going to live or visit Bulgaria, please take the time to tell our Embassy about your trip. If you enroll in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program, we can keep you up to date with important safety and security announcements, and help your friends and family get in touch with you in an emergency.
Local embassy information is available below and at the Department of State’s list of embassies and consulates.
U.S. Embassy Sofia
16, Kozyak St., Sofia1408;
tel.: ( 359 2) 937-5100;
fax: ( 359 2) 937-5209;
Non-immigrant Visa Matters: NIV_Sofia@state.gov
Immigrant Visa Matters: IV_Sofia@gov
American Citizen Services Matters : ACS_Sofia@state.gov
ENTRY / EXIT REQUIREMENTS FOR U.S. CITIZENS: A U.S. passport is required for U.S. citizens who are not Bulgarian nationals. U.S. citizens are authorized to stay in Bulgaria for a total of 90 days within a six-month period without a Bulgarian visa. This law is strictly enforced. You can file an application to extend your stay beyond the original 90 days for urgent or humanitarian reasons, but the application must be submitted to regional police authorities no later than five days prior to the end of the original 90-day period. Travelers who have been in the country for 90 days and then leave will not be able to re-enter Bulgaria before the six-month period expires. Travelers using official or diplomatic passports must secure visas prior to arrival. Please plan and apply for your visa early. Upon entering the country, Bulgarian immigration authorities request that all foreigners declare the purpose of their visit and provide their intended address.
For further information on entry and exit requirements and the most current visa information, contact the Embassy of the Republic of Bulgaria at 1621 22nd Street NW, Washington, DC 20008; tel. (202) 387-7969 (main switchboard (202) 387-0174), or the Bulgarian Consulate at 121 East 62nd Street, New York, NY 10021; tel. (212) 935-4646. If you intend to live or work in Bulgaria for more than 90 days within a six-month period, or for more than six months within a year, you must obtain a “D” visa prior to arrival. U.S. citizens must apply for a “D” visa at a Bulgarian embassy or consulate in the country in which they legally reside. If you wish to obtain a “D” visa while already present in Bulgaria -- having entered as a tourist, for example -- you must leave Bulgaria and apply at the Bulgarian Embassy or Consulate in the United States nearest to your home. Visit the Bulgarian Ministry of Foreign Affairs or Bulgarian Embassies/Consulates websites for more information on visas. The U.S. Embassy in Sofia also provides Bulgarian entry requirements and a link to the “D” visa application online. Bulgarian authorities require original photo identification. Visitors to Bulgaria are required to carry their original passports with them at all times. U.S. citizens with Bulgarian residence permits are not required to carry their passports. U.S. passport cards are recognized as proof of citizenship and identity, but are not accepted for use for international air travel to and from Bulgaria.
Traveling with Bulgarian Citizen Minors: Bulgarian authorities are particularly strict in matters involving the travel of Bulgarian children. If a dual or multi-national Bulgarian child is traveling out of Bulgaria with only one parent or another adult, the absent parent(s) must sign a certified/legalized declaration authorizing temporary custody for travel purposes. This declaration must be presented to Bulgarian Immigration on departure. If the declaration is signed in Bulgaria, it must be certified by a Bulgarian notary public. If signed in the United States, the declaration must be certified by a notary public and the court in the jurisdiction where the notary is licensed. The declaration must include an apostille issued by the individual state's Secretary of Stateor Governor’s office, and a Bulgarian translation by a licensed translation company to be certified by the Bulgarian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Please note that Bulgarian authorities do not require such documentation for minors who are not Bulgarian. However, in cases of minor children who do not have Bulgarian citizenship, but one or both parents are Bulgarian citizens, Immigration officials may request a certified/legalized declaration authorizing custody for travel purposes.
We are unaware of any HIV/AIDS entry restrictions for visitors to or foreign residents of Bulgaria.
Information about dual nationality or the prevention of international child abduction can be found on our website. For further information about customs regulations, please read our Customs Information page.
THREATS TO SAFETY AND SECURITY: Bulgaria’s accession to the European Union has enhanced the overall security environment for tourists and business travelers; however, violence related to criminal groups sporadically occurs in public locations. Incidents include bombings and shootings, likely the result of turf wars between rival organized crime syndicates, which remain highly prevalent in Bulgaria’s largely cash economy. In 2010, a journalist who had published a book containing details on Bulgarian organized crime was assassinated in Sofia during daylight hours.
Public protests, demonstrations, and strikes in response to world or local events can sporadically occur. Traffic disruptions in Bulgaria, particularly in the central city, have occurred as a result of demonstrations. While these demonstrations are normally peaceful, confrontational demonstrations have occurred, as even demonstrations intended to be peaceful can turn confrontational and possibly escalate into violence. Nationwide demonstrations in October 2011 resulted in some violence and destruction of property. You are urged to avoid demonstration areas if possible, and to exercise caution if traveling within the vicinity of any demonstrations. You should monitor media coverage to stay abreast of local events and should be aware of your surroundings at all times. Information regarding demonstrations in Bulgaria can be found on the Embassy Sofia website.
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CRIME: Pick-pocketing and purse snatching are frequent occurrences, especially in crowded markets, on shopping streets, and aboard the busiest tram and bus lines. Con artists operate on public transportation and in bus and train stations. Credit cards and ATMs should be used with caution. Be wary of people who approach you at an ATM and offer assistance. Do not give your PIN to anyone under any circumstances. (See the Special Circumstances section below.)
Travelers should be suspicious of "instant friends" and should also ask persons claiming to be government officials to provide identification.
We recommend that you immediately report any crimes to the police, as they have helped recover money and valuables in the past. To avoid becoming a victim of more serious crimes, use the same personal safety precautions that you would use in any large U.S. city.
You should pay special attention to the drink prices at high-end bars and nightclubs. Travelers have been charged exorbitant prices, especially for champagne and hard alcohol. Bills have been as high as several thousand dollars for drinks, and in some establishments the management may use force to secure payment.
Taxi drivers occasionally overcharge unwary travelers, particularly at Sofia Airport and the Central Train Station. We recommend that you use taxis with meters and clearly marked rates displayed on a sticker on the passenger side of the windshield. The standard rates normally range between BGL 0.59 and 0.70 (approximately 40 U.S. cents) per kilometer. Prior to a current law that established a maximum charge per kilometer, some taxi drivers charged as much as BGL 6.70 (approximately US$5) per kilometer. However, there is only sporadic enforcement of the current law.
At the airport, there is a clearly marked booth within the arrival terminal that arranges for metered taxis at a fair rate. Finding reputable taxis at the Central Train Station is more difficult. We recommend that before you enter a taxi, you first inquire about the fare. Always ensure that you account for all luggage, packages, and hand-carried items before you pay and release a taxi. The likelihood of retrieving articles left behind in a taxi is remote.
Automobile theft is common, and very few vehicles are recovered; four-wheel-drive vehicles and late-model European sedans are the most popular targets. Automobile break-ins are also common in residential areas or near parks, especially when valuables are left in plain sight. Residential burglaries are also a frequent occurrence as in any major city. If you plan to reside in Bulgaria on a long-term basis, you should take measures to protect your home and consider installing window grilles, steel doors with well-functioning locks, and an alarm system.
Take some time before your trip to learn how to improve your personal security—things are not the same everywhere as they are in the United States. Here are some useful tips for personal security.
Use caution when making credit card charges over the Internet to unfamiliar websites. Recent experience has shown that offers for merchandise and services may be scam artists posing as legitimate businesses. In many cases, the businesses do not actually exist.
Don’t buy counterfeit or pirated goods, even if they are widely available. Not only are the bootlegs illegal to bring back into the United States, if you purchase them you may also be breaking local law.
VICTIMS OF CRIME: If you or someone you know becomes the victim of a crime abroad, you should contact the local police and the Embassy. We can:
You must also report a lost/stolen passport to Bulgarian immigration authorities located at 48, Maria Luisa in Sofia, or to the local police station if you are outside of the city.
The local equivalent to the “911” emergency telephone line in Bulgaria is 112 for police, fire, or ambulance services. Please see our information on victims of crime, including possible victim compensation programs in the United States.
CRIMINAL PENALTIES: While in Bulgaria, you are subject to its laws and regulations, which sometimes significantly differ from those in the United States and may not afford the protections available to an individual under U.S. law. Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses. Engaging in sexual conduct with minors or using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is a crime prosecutable in the United States. Bulgarian law enforcement authorities may take you in for questioning if you don’t have your passport, U.S. passport card, or long-term residence card with you.
Penalties for possessing, using, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Bulgaria are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines.
If Arrested: While some countries will automatically notify the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate if a U.S. citizen is detained or arrested in a foreign country, that might not always be the case. To ensure that the United States is aware of your circumstances, request that the police and prison officials notify the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate as soon as you are arrested or detained overseas.
SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES: Bulgaria is still largely a cash economy. Due to the potential for fraud and other criminal activity, credit cards should be used sparingly and with extreme caution. Skimming devices, surreptitiously attached to ATMs by criminals, are used to capture cards and PINs for later criminal use, including unauthorized charges or withdrawals, and are common in Bulgaria. If you choose to use credit cards, we recommend you use ATMs located in banks or malls as opposed to the more vulnerable locations on the street. You should check your account status regularly to ensure its integrity. In connection with such scams, be extremely wary of friendly bystanders near ATMs who offer assistance. Any time a card is not returned, you should immediately report the card as lost/stolen to the card-issuing company.
You may exchange cash at banks or Exchange Bureaus, but should know that Exchange Bureaus sometimes post misleading rate quotations that confuse travelers. People on the street who offer high rates of exchange are usually con artists intent on swindling unwary travelers. Damaged or very worn U.S. dollar bank notes are often not accepted at banks or exchange bureaus. Major branches of the following Bulgarian banks will cash travelers’ checks on the spot for Leva, the Bulgarian currency, or another desired currency: Unicredit Bulbank, Bulgarian Postbank, First Investment Bank, and United Bulgarian Bank (UBB). UBB also serves as a Western Union agent and provides direct transfer of money. There are also many Western Union branches in major towns and cities. Most shops, hotels, and restaurants, with the exception of the major hotels, do not accept travelers’ checks or credit cards. Only some local banks can cash U.S. Treasury checks and the payee may need to wait up to a month to receive funds.
Corruption remains an important concern of the Bulgarian government. The Commission for Coordinating of the Activity for Combating Corruption manages the efforts of each government agency’s internal inspectorate in fighting public corruption and engages in public awareness campaigns. Complaints of public corruption can be made by mail to the Ministry of Finance, 2A Knyaz Dondukov Blvd., 1055 Sofia, Bulgaria and 1 Slavyanska St., 1000 Sofia, 359 2 987 06 97; or to the Ministry of Finance by phone at 080018018. For more information, visit the Ministry of Justice website.
If you are planning to import an automobile to Bulgaria, be aware that customs duties on personal automobiles can be high.
LGBT CONCERNS: Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) individuals are stigmatized by society in Bulgaria. While LGBT individuals are protected by the anti-discrimination law, hate speech and labor discrimination based on sexual orientation are not considered criminal offenses. There are no legal or governmental impediments to the organization of LGBT events, however, last year some marchers were attacked upon leaving Pride events.
LGBT couples are not afforded the same legal protections as heterosexual couples, and societal discrimination against LGBT individuals is widespread outside of Sofia, Plovdiv, and Varna. In general, public displays of affection should be avoided throughout Bulgaria. For further information on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) travel, please read our Information for LGBT Travelers.
Accessibility: While in Bulgaria, individuals with disabilities may find accessibility and accommodation very different from what is found in the United States. The law requires improved access to buildings for persons with disabilities, and new public works projects take this requirement into account; however, this law is rarely enforced in older buildings. Bulgarian law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical and mental disabilities in employment, education, access to health care, and the provision of other state services; however, the government does not effectively enforce these provisions in practice. Societal discrimination persists against persons with disabilities.
Public transportation and general commuting in Sofia or around Bulgaria is nearly impossible for disabled individuals. Buses, trams, and trolleys are generally old and extremely crowded, and lack facilities for disabled travelers. Some newer vehicles claim to have access for disabled individuals, but in practice, access is extremely limited and disabled travelers must rely on fellow passengers to help them on and off the vehicles. The Sofia metro is the most accessible system for disabled individuals, but its reach is limited.. Disabled travelers should consider traveling with a friend or family member who can assist them in navigating the transportation systems in Bulgaria.
MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION: Bulgarian physicians are trained to a very high standard, but most hospitals and clinics, especially in village areas, are generally not equipped or maintained to U.S. or Western European standards. Basic medical supplies and over-the-counter and prescription medications are widely available, but highly specialized treatment may be unavailable. Pediatric facilities are underfunded and lack sufficient equipment. Serious medical problems requiring hospitalization and/or medical evacuation to the United States may cost thousands of dollars. Doctors and hospitals often expect immediate cash payment for health services. You can find a list of hospitals and physicians in Bulgaria on the U.S. Embassy’s website.
You can find information on vaccinations and other health precautions on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) website. For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad, consult the World Health Organization (WHO) website, which also contains additional health information for travelers, including detailed country-specific health information. Tuberculosis is an increasingly serious health concern in Bulgaria. For further information, please consult the CDC's information on TB.
MEDICAL INSURANCE: If you are traveling to Bulgaria, be prepared to present valid evidence of health insurance to the Bulgarian border authorities in order to be admitted into the country. The insurance should be valid for the duration of the traveler’s stay in Bulgaria.
You can’t assume your insurance will go with you when you travel. It’s very important to find out BEFORE you leave. You need to ask your insurance company two questions:
In Bulgaria, doctors and hospitals still expect payment in cash at the time of service. Your regular U.S. health insurance may not cover doctor and hospital visits in other countries. If your policy doesn’t go with you when you travel, it’s a very good idea to take out another one for your trip. For more information, please see our medical insurance overseas page.
TRAFFIC SAFETY AND ROAD CONDITIONS: While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. The Bulgarian road system is largely underdeveloped. There are few sections of limited-access divided highway. Some roads are in poor repair and full of potholes. Rockslides and landslides may be encountered on roads in mountainous areas. Livestock and animal-drawn carts present road hazards throughout the country, especially during the agricultural season. Travel conditions deteriorate during the winter as roads become icy and potholes proliferate. The U.S. Embassy in Sofia advises against driving at night because such road conditions are more dangerous in the dark. Some roads lack pavement markings and lights, and motorists often drive with dim or missing headlights.
Driving in Bulgaria is extremely dangerous. Aggressive driving habits, the lack of safe infrastructure, and a mixture of late model and old model cars on the country’s highways contribute to a high fatality rate for road accidents. Motorists should avoid confrontations with aggressive drivers in Bulgaria. In particular, drivers of late-model sedans are known to speed and drive dangerously. Motorists should exercise caution and avoid altercations with the drivers of such vehicles, which may be driven by armed organized crime figures. In some cities, traffic lights late at night blink yellow in all directions, leaving right-of-way unclear and contributing to frequent accidents. A form of “Russian road roulette” has taken hold in Sofia wherein drivers make bets about speeding through red lights at speeds that exceed 120mph in the late hours of the evening; bets are also taken challenging drivers to go the wrong way around roundabouts at high speeds.
Heavy truck traffic along the two-lane routes from the Greek border at Kulata to Sofia, and from the Turkish border at Kapitan Andre to Plovdiv creates numerous hazards. Motorists should expect long delays at border crossings. A U.S. state driver's license is only valid in Bulgaria when used in conjunction with an International Driving Permit.Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information.
If pulled over by a police officer, you should be aware that under Bulgarian law, police officers may collect fines on the spot, and may confiscate your driver’s license depending upon the offense.
The use of seat belts is mandatory in Bulgaria for all passengers, except pregnant women. Children under 12 years of age may ride in the front seat only if seated in a child car seat. These rules are often disregarded in practice. Speed limits are 50 km/h (31 mph) in the cities/towns, 90 km/h (56 mph) out of town, and 130 km/h (80 mph) on the highways. For motorcycles, speed limits are 50 km/h in the cities/towns, 80 km/h out of town, and 100 km/h on the highways. Motorcyclists must wear helmets and ride with lights on at all times. At unregulated crossings, the driver on the right has the legal right-of-way, but this rule is frequently ignored. Drivers may be charged with driving under the influence of alcohol with a blood level as low as 0.05 percent. Right turns on red lights are not permitted unless specifically authorized. The penalties for drivers involved in an accident resulting in injury or death range from a US $25 fine to life imprisonment. Drivers are required to use their headlights during the day and night from November 1–March 31.
For specific information concerning Bulgarian driving permits, vehicle inspection, road tax, and mandatory insurance, please visit the Bulgarian Embassy website.
Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information. Visit the website of Bulgaria’s national tourist office and the website of the Bulgarian national authority responsible for road safety.
AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT: The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the Government of Bulgaria’s Civil Aviation Authority as being in compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards for oversight of Bulgaria’s air carrier operations. Further information may be found on the FAA’s safety assessment page.
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This replaces the Country Specific Information for Bulgaria dated November 7, 2011.